I worked at Taco Bell when I was in college. It was a few blocks down the street and had flexible hours. This would have been in the early 90's. Then, as today, Taco Bell was often mocked as being inferior food, but I have to say, as someone who worked there, it really wasn't bad at all. Hear me out....
The meat came to the store fresh. To my knowledge, the only other fast food place that dealt with fresh ground beef was Wendy's. (And I know this because I also worked there, in high school)
The cheddar cheese came in giant blocks, and we'd use a garrote-like device to block it and shred it in store. Tomatoes were diced in a hand operated press type machine.
The beans were dried; and had to be steamed and boiled and refried with a giant hand mixer.
The only things that came prepared were the lettuce (shredded and slightly dehydrated, we just added water) nacho cheese sauce and guacamole (that and sour cream came in caulk-gun tubes). Heck, if I remember correctly, we even fried up the taco shells.
Taco Bell was really big into the Value Menu concept then. The big push was 59-79-99. I heard talk that they wanted every menu item to be one of those prices, but that never happened. And I remember thinking our manager was crazy for wanting to charge someone for extra olives on the Mexican pizza because we had transitioned from 4 olive slices to 1. He told me the olives were about half the cost of the whole item. No idea if that was true or not.
It was also the time of 2 failed items; pita pockets and the Lite menu. The lite cheese was really gross. It didn't melt right. I think the meat was the same, just used a smaller serving, but I'm not 100% certain of that.
In any case - I've heard that's all changed now, and that for the past 10 years or so, Taco Bell's food all arrives in the store pre-cooked, and employees now just boil the bags. Can anyone who currently works there confirm??
If it's true, I think this was a poor decision. For one thing, with centralized cooking, something like contaminated beef could impact a lot more people. There's some offset by the fact that they have more uniform control over the cooking, but that's a wash at best. I'd like to do a taste test; freshly cooked and seasoned beef vs. reheated. Same for the beans. Sure, maybe the difference is slight, but I bet I could tell the difference. But the bigger issue is pride. When you made the food yourself, even though it was just Taco Bell, something about being involved in the process gave you a sense of...pride isn't the right word, ownership isn't the right word, and accomplishment isn't the right word either - but it's elements of all those words.
Eh. I don't eat there anymore anyway.